Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 April 2024

Anniversary of the Introduction of the Smoking Ban: Statements


1:25 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Táim sásta a bheith anseo inniu chun tús a chur leis na hóráidí seo a bhaineann leis an gcosc a chuireadh le tobac 20 bliain ó shin. I am very pleased to be here to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the prohibition on smoking in the workplace, one of the most significant and memorable days in my own public life. For the past two decades, since 29 March 2004, we have become accustomed to breathing in fresh air indoors. It is almost impossible for anyone who came to adulthood after that point to comprehend that before that day, people were exposed to second-hand smoke and to the risks of lung cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease and much more on a daily basis just going to work.

I clearly remember the day in December 2002 when a scientific review entitled Report on the Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke in the Workplace landed on my desk. The report was unequivocal in its findings that passive smoking causes cancer. That underlined the importance of evidence-based research. A peer review group, chaired by Professor Allwright, was commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control, which was then headed by the late Tom Power, who had been principal officer in the Department of Health. He was a key civil servant involved in shaping and guiding the whole approach to tobacco generally. He was a good confidante of mine and a person for whom I have always had the greatest respect. That report and the research relating to it immediately posed a moral question for me to which there was only one answer: things had to change. If this had been asbestos in the workplace, for example, there would have been no question over what we would or should do. Therefore, weeks later, in January of 2003, I announced that we would be introducing a workplace smoking ban the following year.

It is easy enough perhaps to forget how controversial and, indeed, unimaginable the measure was. That decision then sparked ferocious debate over the following 12 months in what was, and this is an important point, a real national debate on public health. The idea of a ban on smoking captivated the people. It took up hours of airtime on “The Late Late Show”, “Liveline” and all the current affairs programmes. In newspapers, columnists questioned whether Ireland was becoming a nanny state - we have heard that again in recent times - and if we were going too far. Many business owners, particularly publicans, were fearful of such change and the impact it could have on their livelihoods. The Irish hospitality industry alliance warned that the ban would cost 65,000 jobs. In the face of intense backlash, doctors, health professionals and a variety of health organisations, including the Asthma Society of Ireland, Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society, all stood up to ensure their perspectives and expert opinions were heard and counted on in the debate. To this day, I am very grateful to them for their courage and resolution.

While we intended to introduce the ban in January 2004, it was delayed by three months on foot of European legislation that enables member states that feel it might interfere with the Single Market to object to it. I can recall the editorials giving me an awful time when we announced we were delaying it until March of 2004. In hindsight, however, it was a blessing in disguise because the weather was far better by March for people who now had to smoke outdoors. When we look back on it, 1 a.m. on New Year's Day would maybe not have been the best time for someone to adjust to a law like this. In the days and weeks before the smoking ban came into effect, my anxieties and the anxiety levels of officials were very high.

What would we do if, for example, there was mass non-compliance? I recall health officials in New York saying to us that if they had their time again, they would have worried less about that because people really wanted this kind of legislation. We were also concerned as to whether the ever powerful tobacco industry would challenge the ban legally. When we learned the industry had retained the four big legal firms in Dublin, we took in some senior counsel to go through what we were doing with a fine-tooth comb. They worked with the then Attorney General, the late Rory Brady, who gave fantastic support in anticipating any loopholes there might be.

I will never forget the morning of 29 March 2004. "The Gerry Ryan Show" sent an undercover reporter to a late pub in Dublin, which we used to call dockers' pubs, to test the ban early in the morning. When she took out a cigarette and went to light it up in front of the barman, she was told to cease and put the cigarette away. A huge cheer went up throughout the then Department of Health and Children when we heard that report. It gave us a sense we were out the gap, so to speak.

Since then, we have continued to push ahead with tobacco control measures. We have done this simply because there is nothing good about smoking. It is addictive. It is lethal. I have yet to meet a smoker who is glad that he or she started smoking. Some of the research at the time was very telling. Whether people smoked five or ten cigarettes a day, they all supported the ban. When we asked why, they said it was because they felt it would help them to give up the habit. That is an important point. It is worth reminding ourselves that today, in 2024, the evidence is even clearer that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke. That is why proposals for smoking areas or smoking rooms in premises, which were pushed heavily at the time by the tobacco industry, could never be an acceptable alternative to, or mitigation of, an outright ban.

Second-hand smoke is simply awful in every respect. It causes lung cancer in those who have never smoked. In addition to causing cancers, exposure to tobacco smoke enables tumours to grow because many of the more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes discourage the body's normal reactions to fight the growth of abnormal cells. We also now know that exposure to tobacco smoke can decrease the benefits of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Second-hand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke, is also a cause of coronary heart disease. Low levels of exposure can lead to the damage to the lining of blood vessels that is implicated in strokes and heart attacks. For strokes, the estimated increased risk from exposure to second-hand smoke is between 20% and 30%. Since the introduction of the ban, we have learned more about the damage from second-hand smoke. We now know there is a causal relationship between maternal exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy and a reduction in the birth weight of babies. We know children who breathe second-hand smoke are at risk of having a lower level of lung function during childhood and can suffer from bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections. For children with asthma, breathing second-hand smoke can trigger an attack of such seriousness as to require hospitalisation.

These are difficult issues to consider and discuss but we cannot shy away from them. Tobacco smoking causes catastrophic damage to smokers and those around them. That is why radical interventions like the indoor workplace ban are not only justified but absolutely necessary to protect personal and public health. If we want a country in which all of our population has the right to good health, we must continue in our efforts to eliminate tobacco smoking. We have the evidence that the ban worked. After its introduction, studies found significant reductions in air pollution in pubs and related improvements in the respiratory health of workers. There were reductions in the number of emergency admissions due to respiratory illness and in hospital admissions due to cardiopulmonary disease. A 2005 study that examined the effect of the workplace ban on second-hand exposure in 42 Dublin bars and among bar workers found an 83% reduction in air pollution in bars. More significantly, it found an 80% decrease in the quantity of airborne carcinogens to which staff and customers were exposed on a daily basis.

Research published just over a decade ago found that by 2013 the smoking ban resulted in 3,726 fewer smoking-related deaths than would have been expected if it had not been introduced. That study also found the smoking ban was associated with a number of immediate reductions in ill health in the general population. It found an immediate 13% decrease in all-cause mortality and a 26% reduction in ischaemic heart disease. It also found a 32% reduction in stroke and a 38% reduction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. Regarding lung cancer specifically, a 2019 analysis found the workplace smoking ban had caused decreases in cancer incidence and mortality in Ireland and was associated with an estimated 32 fewer lung cancer incident cases per year and 113 fewer lung cancer deaths per year.

Along with these improvements in health outcomes, we know the ban impacted on smoking rates. A 2020 analysis found its introduction reduced girls' smoking prevalence by an estimated 7.3% and boys' prevalence by approximately 5%. We have made much progress on smoking prevalence since the workplace ban. Our adult smoking rate, which was 27% in 2002, is now 18%. The smoking rate for children was 19% in 2002, compared with the current rate of 5%. That progress is not incidental but we need to keep the pressure on in respect of children and young people. We made that progress because successive Governments built on the success of the workplace ban with the consistent introduction of additional tobacco control interventions to drive down our smoking rate. Part of that involved our international role with the World Health Organization, including working with it in on ratification of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC. The officials in the then Department of Health and Children played a significant role, with their colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs, in putting a very progressive convention in place in 2005. This represented a national public commitment to action the measures set out in the convention in order to eliminate what WHO calls the worldwide tobacco epidemic. We have been and continue to be very active parties to the convention.

In 2007, we introduced a prohibition on the sale of cigarette packets containing fewer than 20 cigarettes. The way children got hooked by the tobacco industry long ago was by being able to buy two or three fags over the counter, then moving on to the ten-pack and so forth. Eliminating all of that and increasing the tax on cigarettes helped to denormalise smoking among children and young people.

In 2009, the ban on the display and advertising of cigarettes at the point of sale in retail outlets was, eventually, introduced, having been provided for in the Public Health (Tobacco) Bill 2002. The purpose of the ban was to make clear to people that cigarettes are not an ordinary consumer product and should not be displayed in the same way as other items. Other products do not kill one of out every two of their users. In the same year, we also introduced a requirement that all tobacco products must be stored within a closed container that can only be accessed by the retailer.

In 2010, the HSE introduced its tobacco control framework, which led to the development of its award-winning Quit advertising campaign. The tobacco control framework underlines the importance of smoking cessation services. It is generally understood that nicotine is as addictive as, if not more addictive than, heroin. It is extremely important that we support people who wish to quit. It is not easy to quit tobacco and nicotine. The work being carried out in this area currently by the HSE's tobacco-free Ireland programme is critical. I pay tribute to those involved.

On reflection, one of the most important actions we took back in the period we are discussing was to establish the Office of Tobacco Control. It gave a focus to the issue and a specialised resource of personnel who could commission all the research, organise the campaigns and so on. There are people who think there are too many agencies, with the usual calls from some political parties for a cull of quangos. "Quango" is the one word I hate in terms of public policy. I know from my own experience that all such organisations, whether the Office of Tobacco Control or the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, did very focused and important work in their day. I do not mean any slight to the then Department of Health and Children, which introduced the legislation to implement the smoking ban, in saying that if the Office of Tobacco Control had not been established outside the Department, we might not have achieved the central focus on the issue to drive it home. We should always reflect on the fact that if we have specific targets we want to attain in society, measures like that are important. All the measures I have outlined flowed from that legislation and from the work of the Office of Tobacco Control, which was headed up at the time by Tom Power.

In 2011, we introduced graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging. Again, this was very important in terms of how the product is presented to the public. The tobacco-free Ireland policy and framework include 60 recommended actions to create a tobacco-free society. The objectives of the policy are to denormalise tobacco within society. The action plan was published in 2015 and included more specific actions.

We have to ensure momentum is not lost here and that we report annually on the outcomes of the action plan.

An important measure was introduced in 2016, namely the banning of smoking in cars when children are present. No level of exposure to second-hand smoke is safe, and exposure is particularly harmful in closed places such as cars, particularly given the combination of chemicals in addition to nicotine. Children's exposure to second-hand smoke in cars is voluntary. They are unable to remove themselves from risk if people smoke around them, and that is why this legislation was an important element of our commitment to the protection of children.

We have transposed the EU tobacco products directive into Irish law. Many of the associated measures were ones that we had already implemented or gone beyond. We will continue to work at EU level and internationally to keep up the battle against tobacco.

Plain packaging was another welcome initiative. The aim was basically to eliminate all forms of branding. Trademarks, logos, colours and graphics have been removed from tobacco packs. The various brand names must be presented in a uniform typeface and the packs must all be in one plain, neutral colour.

I caution the House that in the battle against nicotine and tobacco, we face an endlessly, relentlessly, ruthlessly determined and creative opponent, an industry that never stops in its effort to capture and ensnare new users, particularly children and other young people. I mentioned earlier the deadly addictiveness of nicotine. In his landmark contribution to the US television show "60 Minutes" in 1995, tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand exposed the truth of the industry's core strategy and business model. He said, “We are in the nicotine delivery business.” Over the years, as we have made the progress I have just talked about in the fight against cigarettes and tobacco, the industry has gradually shifted its tactics but its strategy remains the same – the nicotine delivery business.

This brings me to what I believe may be one of the industry's most insidious initiatives in a very long time, the proliferation of vaping products. Again, the same playbook is in operation. The industry is using many of the marketing techniques used for cigarettes in the earlier days, from the emphasis on flavour and celebrity endorsement to unsubstantiated claims about safety and relative health benefits. The explosion of these products into our schools and society in general and onto our streets is a matter of great concern to me. We need to be every bit as aggressive in our response to the latest incarnation as we continue to be in our battle against tobacco more generally. In that context, our most recent tobacco control legislation, the Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Act, was enacted last year. That Act contains a range of measures tackling nicotine inhaling products, such as e-cigarettes. There are three major objectives: to introduce strict licensing and regulation of the retailing of tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products; to introduce new restrictions on the sale of both types of product and restrictions on the advertising of nicotine inhaling products; and to provides additional enforcement powers to the national environmental health service, the enforcement authority for tobacco-control law.

The current position on licensing is that a retailer who wishes to sell tobacco in one or more premises needs to register once and pay a single fee of €50. The new provisions in the Act mean an annual licence will be required for each premises through which products are sold. Licences will not be issued for temporary or mobile premises, so pop-up shops at festivals, for example, cannot sell these products. Minimum periods of suspension of licences will apply on conviction for certain tobacco control offences, and licences will be revoked if the licensee commits two or more serious offences.

Our Act will also introduce sales restrictions for tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products. The sale of both types of product by a retail worker who is a minor will be restricted and their sale by self-service – for example, through self-service vending machines – will be prohibited. We will continue to prioritise the protection of children in this Act. We have already introduced a prohibition on the sale of tobacco products and nicotine inhaling products at events for children. More powers will be given to the national environmental health service in terms of the Act and new tools concerning compliance.

The Act is good. It is a necessary start in this new phase but I wish to make it clear that it is not enough and that we need to do more. Consultation is ongoing on the introduction of much more restrictive laws on flavouring and packaging. As far as I am concerned, this cannot happen soon enough. I am crystal clear in my view of what the industry is doing: it is trying to seed new generations of people with lifelong nicotine addictions. I am very clear in my view on what needs to be done to stop it. We have achieved much with the workplace smoking ban and have done much more since, and we are planning more for the future. I am grateful and honoured to have been able to play my part in the journey to this point, but my primary focus now is on what still needs to be done. The nicotine delivery business never rests, and neither will we or should we.

1:40 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Colm Burke, on his appointment. Obviously, we will have a robust debate over the next 12 months, but I wish him all the best. Where we can work together, we will, because this is a vital area. It is important to introduce legislation and amendments that we can agree on and work together on. Best of luck to the Minister of State.

It is now well known that the workplace smoking ban has had a transformative impact on the health and well-being of people in the State. It was a successful policy that reduced smoking rates and protected workers from second-hand smoke. Even though I understand that when the Bill to effect the ban was introduced – I have been here for only four years – there was much opposition, but everyone, or certainly the vast majority, now recognises it was the right thing to do and has been a success.

I have been in this Chamber for four years and am extremely proud to be a Deputy for Cork North-Central and the Sinn Féin spokesperson on addiction recovery and well-being, but I have never seen – I do not know whether it is just me – a group of politicians pat themselves on the back over how well the Government is doing on many issues. Week after week, I come in here to point out the failings that are occurring and ask the Government, especially the Minister for Health, to tackle the various problems and crises concerning the health service, but also concerning housing and the cost of living. We are standing here today engaging in a two-hour debate devoted to discussing a policy introduced 20 years ago. Even though I have recognised that it entailed a good decision and was the right thing to do, we have issues that need to be discussed now. This week, there was no time allotted in the House to discuss housing, the cost of living, the crisis in public health and the crises faced in hospitals and doctors' surgeries. I understand the Minister played a pivotal role in introducing the smoking ban, which I acknowledge, but we have issues to be addressed today.

One of the issues I want to discuss is the Gambling Regulation Bill. That should have been discussed this week. I had expected to be here today discussing that vital Bill, which deals with an issue that has featured for nearly as long as the smoking ban has been in place, namely 20 years. This is important legislation that should have been discussed but that is not being discussed. It would protect people, especially the vulnerable, who are at risk right now. I have dealt with the cases of people who have lost their homes and families owing to their having been in the throes of addiction and at risk of gambling hard. The Bill needed to be discussed today. It is really disappointing that the Government, having looked at the business for this week, has let the opportunity go. How can anyone justify the movement of the legislation? This is a disappointing aspect of today's business.

I agree with a number of the points the Minister made on vapes. There are 17,000 flavours, which is unbelievable. No one can justify having 17,000 flavours other than to target young people. The packaging is bright and colourful and there are flavours of all kinds, including bubblegum, Red Bull, candy floss and chocolate. Vapes are now becoming collectors' items like Pokémon cards, soccer cards and GAA cards.

That is part of a new fad. How are we allowing this to happen? How is the Government allowing it to happen? We are now looking at children who are at risk. We have asked the Minister for Health to consider restrictions on flavours and explore the impact of these flavours on young people.

Similar to the smoking in the workplace ban that the Tánaiste brought in, we are calling for much stronger vaping regulations. There are claims that restricting flavours will lead to a tsunami of ex-smokers taking up vaping. I do not believe that. They are claiming that there would be a loss of 65,000 jobs. That was the claim back in the day when the Tánaiste introduced the smoking ban but it did not transpire, and it will not transpire with vaping either. We will not see job losses and I imagine the downward trend in smoking could actually be reversed if we do not tackle vaping. That is a serious concern for me. I know the Tánaiste touched on that point. He said the regulations that have come in are a start but do not go far enough. They do not go far enough.

I also want to touch on when the workplace smoking ban was implemented. I know there were many critics of it and that people did not want the ban to be introduced. What we are seeing now is a parallel with vaping similar to when the smoking ban came in. The Guardiannewspaper ran an article which showed clearly the links between pro-vaping lobbies in Britain and the tobacco industry. As the tobacco industry is waning, it is diversifying and pumping funding into vaping. As a result, the number of people vaping has surged. The World Health Organization has found that, on average, people who vape do so three times more than those who smoke light up cigarettes. Vaping is much more addictive. Because of the chemicals involved and the addiction they cause, the more you vape, the more you have to vape. The habit perpetuates itself.

There are serious links between these products and toxic substances, some which are known to cause cancer and some which increase the risk of heart and lung disorders. Most worrying is that the nicotine contained has been shown to impact the brain development of children and young people. I remember speaking on the Bill when it was being discussed. I made a point that I knew a person in their 60s who used vaping to get off cigarettes. I recognise that but what has happened is that the vaping industry, instead of being a way to try to get off cigarettes, has switched to targeting young people to try to get more young people addicted. That is not what vaping was. The tobacco industry will always look for opportunities to make money. That is what it is doing here. As such, it is putting young people at risk.

To touch on Keltoi, when the workplace smoking ban was introduced, the point was made that there would be no compromise on health, yet week after week in this Chamber, we hear about compromises on health. During the pandemic, the only State-run addiction facility was closed. I raised it numerous times in here. I welcomed the commitment last year to reopen Keltoi in 2024. There was a proposal to turn Keltoi into a national dual diagnosis centre, which everyone supported, but the problem here again is that the Government has compromised on health and failed to give the €2 million that is needed to develop Keltoi into a dual-diagnosis centre.

The Tánaiste probably heard during the week about what is happening in Cork University Hospital, CUH. A lady contacted local radio stations and The Echo. She was in the emergency department. Things are so bad in CUH this week that the triage nurse had to come out to speak to a young woman who had issues and severe abdominal pains and ask her really personal questions in a waiting room with dozens of other people about her menstrual cycle and bowel movements. Can you imagine being a young woman or a young man of 24, 25 or 26 years of age, or even a much older person, being asked this private, really revealing questions in front of a roomful of people? The reason is that the doctors and nurses in CUH are at the pin of their collar. There is a significant problem and it comes down to the Minister for Health.

The Tánaiste took a brave decision 20 years ago, which is acknowledged. We have a Minister for Health now who is not doing so. He has failed the health service. He did not get an increase in the health budget. He is standing over an embargo on recruitment in the health service. Twenty years ago, a good decision was made. In the past 20 years, have Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael health Ministers lost their backbone? They are failing to deliver for people in health.

1:50 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We are here to welcome 20 years of the smoking ban. I recall some of the conversation at the time in the public domain. It was like the roof was going to fall in and that it was going to be impossible. I absolutely agree with Deputy Gould when he says that it was a brave move. I congratulate people on the work that has been done. We have seen that it has been transformative.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Colm Burke, to his new position. I imagine we will have a number of interactions. He is talking about everything from Healthy Ireland through to dealing with the drug addiction crisis that we have at the minute. I wish him the best of luck but we are all starting from a difficult place on that and the services that are required.

I would much prefer that the business we were dealing with included some of the issues that Deputy Gould spoke about earlier with regard to the Gambling Regulation Bill and all the other issues and many crises that are facing us at the minute. I will be quite honest that I would have much preferred that, in the last changing of the guard, we would have actually gone to the people and to a general election, but so be it. We are where we are.

With regard to the smoking ban, a brave step was taken. We have all seen the benefits, even when those benefits were initially the fact that you came home and your jacket and clothes from the disco were not stinking and you did not always have cigarette burns on your jacket. If I remember correctly, we suddenly discovered that some of the discos and so on needed to have a serious clean-out afterwards because the smoke, to a degree, covered an awful lot of other sins. That is for another time. It was beneficial, even on a personal basis, that people were suddenly not inhaling a significant amount of smoke when they were out, which goes without saying for those who were in workplaces, besides for someone who, as the saying used to go, smoked like a trooper.

The problem is that tobacco firms have also seen a changing set of circumstances. We all initially welcomed vaping. We all know multiple people who used vaping as a harm reduction means. We have all seen those people who were able to wean themselves off cigarettes, who had tried many times before and failed. This was the means by which they did it. That was long before we saw the bubblegum-flavoured vapes and so on. We know that we have to go much further. When talking about kids, including many young kids, it is incredibly worrying. It is not just about vapes but about all the dangers from a health point of view.

Alongside dealing with the issue of vapes, we have to deal with the issue of processed food and sugary drinks. We have seen certain moves that were made on the sugar tax. We know that there is never one silver bullet and that companies will be able to make determinations to find ways round those sorts of circumstances. We need an all-of-government response. That cannot just be about forcing poor people into circumstances. We all know that at times, unfortunately, some of the cheapest foods are the worst types. We know there are issues with advertising and so on. We know the issues with Ireland and alcohol. That goes without saying. We need to look at the evidence relating to the night-time economy.

We need public health assessments before we make any determinations. Sometimes we all think intuitively that if everyone is not coming home from a disco at the one time it would be fine and we would have less violence. What would I have done in that set of circumstances? I am sure we all know people, and I am sure that at one stage of my life I probably was one of them, who would have just stayed out and continued drinking. There would have been no real advantage. If everybody does this, I would assume that really bad things would happen at the end of the night.

I am very glad that Deputy Gould spoke about gambling and the big issue it is. I went to an event at the end of last year organised by the Thirsk Counselling service. Oisín McConville addressed the event. He had 35 minutes to speak about himself, which is his favourite subject. It was brilliant, and Thirsk Counselling now offers a gambling service. This is something we have to look at with regard to drug addiction, the family addiction support network and the sustainability of the services. It is a far longer conversation with regard to the issues that face our communities at this point in time.

2:00 pm

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the statements marking the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the smoking ban. It is appropriate for me as a Labour Party TD to speak about the key role the labour movement played in the introduction of smoke-free workplaces, as well as acknowledging the Tánaiste's leadership on this issue when he was Minister for Health.

The trade union movement was at the heart of the campaign for smoke-free workplaces. It played a crucial role in the delivery of this important public health measure. There were some key individuals in the movement who are worthy of acknowledgement. John Douglas was then assistant general secretary of Mandate. He was a passionate supporter of smoke-free workplaces. His union represented many bar workers throughout the country who were the most exposed to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and resultant early deaths from cancer and heart disease. As a 20-year-old in 2004, my biggest exposure to second-hand smoke was through socialising as opposed to work, and socialising in workplaces that were bars and nightclubs. The difference it made, literally overnight, was substantial. Mandate was a pioneer on this issue and worked to get more allies through the trade union movement.

Another hero worth acknowledging is Dublin City Council bin lorry worker Mark Wynne, who was central in this regard. He saw how some colleagues were badly affected by the smoking of other workmates. He brought a motion to the IMPACT conference calling on that union to support the introduction of smoke-free workplaces and it did, beginning to turn the tide of support in the wider trade union movement.

Another individual central to bringing the movement along was the CEO of the office of tobacco control, the late Tom Power. He was an active member of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants who, along with Pat Montague and my colleague Deputy Nash, met many union leaders and encouraged them and explained how the tobacco industry operates in terms of recruiting the next generation of smokers through marketing its products to children and young people and dumping cheap products in the developing world, and how it funds and uses front organisations to protect its interests. Through this process of briefing key leaders and influencers, by October 2003 the entire trade union movement had swung behind the move for a legislative solution to a smoke-free workplace and were out actively campaigning. It acted as a crucial counterweight to the lobbying efforts of some in the hospitality sector and the fronts for big tobacco, many of whom were being lent a willing ear by some in Cabinet at the time and by other TDs on the Government and Opposition benches.

As we mark this day it is right that we celebrate what it did. It removed second-hand smoke from the workplace. This was a pro-public health and a pro-worker policy and it has had a lasting impact. I spoke to a woman today who is a smoker. When I told her I was speaking on this today she said it was the best thing that the Tánaiste ever did. Whether or not he believes this, it certainly will be a defining policy and legacy achievement of his political career. It is one that marked Ireland out in a positive way as a pioneer and leader in this area.

We now have a new frontier in this. We still have targets to meet in terms of reducing tobacco use and smoking. We are well behind the targets that were set by the Minister for Health ten years ago in terms of becoming tobacco free. We need to redouble our efforts. We need to reduce the level of vaping. We need to constantly improve our data in terms of the negative health impacts that vaping has. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we still have work to do in terms of the levels of smoking in this country.

The smoking ban was a big step forward. It was a transformative moment in terms of our attitudes to smoking and public health policy, but it has not delivered the reduced levels of smoking that we want to see. There is more to do. There is a great deal more to do in respect of vaping. In the context of what we are speaking about today, it is worth acknowledging what a legacy achievement this is and what a proud achievement it was for our country. That is worth the debate today.

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Colm Burke, who was a colleague on the Committee of Public Accounts. He added greatly to the body and, in fact, we missed him this morning. I wish him well in his role, in particularly with regard to public health and considering the recommendations of the citizens' assembly on drugs, which I will come back to.

It is interesting that Deputy Smith spoke about the role of the trade union movement in terms of the smoking ban. What is often forgotten is that it is not a smoking ban; it is a workplace smoking ban. Its introduction was very much pushed by workers. The conditions that many people had to work in, just because they were in the hospitality industry, were intolerable yet they were tolerated. The conditions in which many people who worked on aeroplanes had to work were intolerable and yet they were tolerated. Young people now might not believe that in the oxygen-filled environment on aeroplanes, people used to be allowed to smoke.

We only have to look at the figures in terms of the number of young people smoking. I see a large number of young people in the Gallery. Almost 50% of young people between 18 and 24 at the time smoked. There are different categorisations now but the figure is between 6% and 20%, depending on the age split. It is probably closer to 20%. This is a massive reduction.

For fear of challenging my leader's legacy, this is not all because of a decision by the Tánaiste. It was because many people in society, a silent majority in some ways, opposed the existence of tobacco and the prevalence of tobacco in society and wanted to see someone take a decision. I commend the Tánaiste on making that decision and I commend the civil servants in the Department. I also commend the trade union movement and the political parties at the time. In the 2004 local elections, it certainly was not the popular thing to be knocking on the doors about. There were people who were addicted. They were not casual consumers of the product. They were addicted to nicotine. They were not happy with the decision.

We should reflect on the entire debate, not only because of how we treated tobacco but also in the context of how we make decisions in the House. Sometimes there is a silent majority on an issue that maybe is not engaged in politics on a day-to-day basis and that does not engage with social media. They are not the first people who come up in a vox pop on RTÉ or elsewhere. Too often, commercial and sometimes non-commercial lobbies representing a minority of the Irish people take up a large amount of bandwidth in our public conversation.

There is a lesson there for us. While there might not be an immediate political benefit, there is certainly a long-term political benefit to making the right decisions and representing large numbers of Irish people who may have a position on this but are not actively engaged in any particular campaign. Maybe we should not listen to those commercial or non-commercial lobbies that often advocate against the larger public interest.

I will turn to what is probably the next or current great public health challenge, namely, the issue of illegal drugs. First, it is worth noting that in fighting tobacco, and we did set out to have a tobacco-free Ireland, never in our canon of measures did we consider the prohibition of tobacco. There are probably good reasons for that, given the fact it is established in the market as well as its prevalence. There was the real fear that we would essentially drive tobacco sales underground, it would be unregulated, and the substances could be unsafe. Unfortunately, in the illegal drug industry, many of the drugs people are using fall under those terms. They are in the grip of illegal drug gangs. The quantities vary, the potency varies, etc. In all the comparisons we make, it is worth noticing that difference. In trying to achieve a tobacco-free Ireland, we did not take a decision to ban tobacco but instead looked at a public health response.

On the issue of illegal drugs, the Government established a citizens’ assembly. I will not use the word “progressive”, but there were quite challenging findings made by citizens’ assembly. It came very close to voting to legalise cannabis. While I am not entirely certain if I hold that view at the moment, that is what the citizens’ assembly proposed. It had very strong support for a public health response rather than a criminal response to illegal drugs. This has been sent to a newly established committee of the House, which is chaired by Deputy McNamara. We have ten months left in this Dáil and I hope we will complete our report on that because we should respect the time, effort and work that was done by the citizens in the citizens’ assembly. Also, I want political parties and the next Government to tackle this issue of illegal drugs. Deputy Shortall and I represent a constituency where, in many places, the activities and sales made by the illegal drugs industry are open and obvious. I am not saying the answer to that is to legalise them, license them and allow them to open corner shops, but we cannot also turn a blind eye to the fact the illegal drugs industry is operating. The people who are using them are addicted in no different way, but perhaps in a more profound way, than the people who were the victims of the tobacco lobby 30 or 40 years ago. They were also addicted.

I read many of the contributions to the citizens’ assembly, and I thought one of them was really powerful. Somebody said that if their child were addicted to alcohol, they would first send them somewhere to be treated for that addiction, but if your child is addicted to an illegal drug, there is also the additional challenge of worrying whether you also have to be with them in court at the same time they are seeking help for their addiction. Ireland is on the cusp of an important decision here. We cannot do anything that makes this worse. We cannot do anything that exposes young people to a greater threat of addiction, but we do have to wrestle this issue back from the illegal drugs industry and take the people who are the victims back from its control. There is also the millions and millions of euro that is washed through these gangs, which infiltrates communities in many ways.

I will use this opportunity, the first occasion on which the Minister of State, Deputy Colm Burke, is present, to draw parallels between the way we have dealt with tobacco, which I believe is successful, and the challenge the Minister of State has in responding to the committee's recommendations and the report made by the citizens’ assembly. I wish him good luck in that. Our own local drugs task forces in Ballymun and Finglas would be delighted to meet with the Minister of State to discuss the challenges. They would no doubt mention the core funding they believe should be increased. Over time, we have diluted the resources and the ability of the drugs task forces to act as key stakeholders in our communities. As they have done with the Minister of State’s predecessor and every other predecessor in that role, they want to be very actively engaged with the Minister of State, so I invite him to Finglas and Ballymun to meet with those drugs task forces. I also invite him to meet with some of the Deputies in the House who may have been working on this issue for longer than I have done. There are a number of us. Deputies Ó Ríordáin, Hourigan and I, as well as many others, would be happy to sit down with the Minister of State to talk about how we might help and support him to make a courageous decision, as was made with tobacco.

As I said, I wish the Minister of State luck on it. It is not easy. By no means is it easy. I have one caveat, though. Since the recent referendum, there has been a suggestion that anything "woke" needs to now be rejected. People who are addicted are not a woke issue. People who are addicted have a medical issue and the State needs to respond. I am not underestimating the complexity of the response, but I urge the Minister of State to do everything he can.

2:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will take this opportunity to give the Minister of State our warmest congratulations on his appointment. I wish him every success.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Thank you.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Patricia Ryan. We know how important these issues are in Kildare.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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They are indeed, and there are lots of important issues. That being said, I, too, wish Deputy Colm Burke the best in his new role. However, I would have preferred to go to a general election and maybe have somebody else in that seat.

Let us move swiftly on to the business that is at hand. Ireland has the proud distinction of being a global pioneer by banning smoking in all workplaces, bars and restaurants. Numerous other countries, 74 In total, including Greece, Spain and Hungary, to name but a few, followed our example with complete bans on smoking in enclosed public spaces, public transport and workplaces. Twenty years ago, when working in any pub or being on public transport or in other enclosed public spaces, it was commonplace to be rounded off by, to work in or to be surrounded by a grey fog of cigarette smoke. Whether you were a smoker or not, an evening out meant coming home smelling of stale smoke, and even hospitals had smoking rooms. My own mother ran a public house. She was a non-smoker but she died of cancer at the age of 55. Such exposure to passive or second-hand smoke had been proven to contribute to serious health conditions in non-smokers, such as coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancers. For workers in these places, this exposure was multiplied manifold.

In the two decades since that momentous step, and it was a momentous step and we have to celebrate it, there are 800,000 fewer smokers in the State. There have been health benefits to those whose work environments have been made safer as a result. The benefits of the smoking ban are without question. We can now take for granted that we have clean air in our pubs, restaurants and workplaces. Our public transport is smoke free and our hospitals are designated smoke-free campuses.

However, many smokers still exist, and tobacco causes 4,500 deaths a year in Ireland. There is a rise in numbers vaping, which is causing huge damage to people in this country. This, in turn, has led to calls from people such as Chris Macey of the Irish Heart Foundation to raise the legal age of sale of tobacco and vaping products to 21. With smoking rates among teenagers increasing for the first time in a generation, Mr. Macey call this an "epidemic of e-cigarette use". Everywhere we go, we see youngsters with vapes: the colourful ones, the flavourful ones, etc. This is fuelling nicotine addiction among young people as a gateway to smoking. We still need investment in cancer treatment services. The Irish Cancer Society has warned that a lack of sufficient funding has expensive equipment lying idle. With patient survival prospects being put at risk, why waste money on expensive machines if there is not the staff or the capacity to use them?

Deputy Pearse Doherty spoke on Leaders' Questions today about what the Irish Cancer Society is telling us about these machines. It is not a swings-and-roundabouts game. We need the benefits of the smoking ban. They cannot be lost to the chronic underfunding of vital cancer treatment services.

The smoking industry has changed and developed in the past 20 years. The approach to smoking and vaping needs to move with the times. I feel the regulations on vaping must be made much stronger and I hope the Minister of State feels the same. We took a bold step in 2004 and need to keep taking bold steps to lead the way in respect of future measures for tobacco and vaping products. We must also fund our services to do so. I wish the Minister of State the best.

2:20 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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I welcome these statements on the 20th anniversary of the smoking ban. There is no doubt that the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, deserves great credit for introducing this ban in 2004. He did so, as many of us will recall, in the face of heavy opposition and lobbying from the tobacco industry, publicans and even some members of his own party. There is no doubt that many people are alive in this country today as a result of his political courage. Many more are enjoying a much better standard of living and health status.

It is equally important that we acknowledge the crucial role trade unions played in getting this momentous decision over the line. Mandate, which represents bar workers, campaigned to ensure the smoking ban applied across all workplaces, including bars and clubs. It seems unimaginable now that those workplaces could ever have been excluded from the ban but it was essential they were not. It was also essential to break that strong link between having a few drinks and smoking at the same time.

A major change such as this in public policy could not have happened without political leadership and ambition. I regret to say that both of those qualities are in short supply today, 20 years after that momentous decision. At a time when the use of vapes is rapidly rising, particularly among young people, we have a Government that seems to be sitting on its hands. Vapes may come in brightly coloured packaging and fruity flavours but they still contain nicotine in another guise. It is frankly unforgivable that a whole new generation has been allowed to become hooked on nicotine. The WHO has described vapes as a gateway to tobacco consumption, and that is borne out domestically. For the first time in 25 years, smoking among 15- to 16-year-olds, a key age period for smoking initiation, has increased. When we look at youth vaping, the data is just as alarming. According to a 2023 study commissioned by Foróige, 36% of 13- and 16-year-olds said they currently vape. That is more than one third. Is it any wonder that is the case? Only last December was the sale of vapes to under-18s banned. While welcome, that was the bare minimum one would expect. In fact, most people assumed that was already the law.

It is difficult to fathom why there is such inertia when it comes to addressing this problem. It is certainly a far cry from the type of pioneering public health policy we are honouring today. Instead of action, all we have got is not one but two rounds of public consultation. This comes after a very long process, with which the Minister of State is familiar, that we went through at the Joint Committee on Health. We went through extensive pre-legislative scrutiny and the committee unanimously identified the key steps and measures that needed to be taken to tackle what is becoming an epidemic among young people. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the recommendations from the health committee were ignored. Surely after the first round of consultation, in which 85% of respondents supported a ban on disposable vapes, the necessary legislation could have been produced to deal with single-use vapes. I appreciate there is an EU notification process, but why was that not started immediately after the first public consultation? That public consultation ended eight months ago and the EU only needs six months' notification.

I would also argue there is absolutely no justification for the range of child-friendly flavours available. These are clearly designed to appeal to children and young people. Serious limitations need to be placed on flavours and vapes should be treated the same as cigarettes and tobacco when it comes to packaging. The current situation is ludicrous. These highly addictive products are being displayed like a pick 'n' mix behind the counter at every corner shop, generally just beside chocolate bars and packets of sweets.

The continued influence of commercial actors in shaping health policy is also deeply concerning. For the most recent public consultation on vaping regulation, a large vaping retailer was offering €20 credit to customers who made a submission. I have already flagged this with the Minister as it needs to be considered when analysing those responses.

That brings me to my final point about the commercial determinants of health. I congratulate the Minister of State on his elevation and wish him well in what is an important position. He will be familiar with many of the points I am making as a result of his membership of the health committee. I certainly hope he will remember clearly the discussions we had and the very many presenters who came before the committee to make a strong case for tackling those commercial interests that are so important in respect of the commercial determinants of health. As he will recall, Dr. Norah Campbell, associate professor in the Trinity College Dublin business school, appeared before our committee to discuss this topic. She told the committee that, for far too long, health policy has been focused only on individuals, their responsibilities and their immediate environment. This narrow focus fails to acknowledge the impact of commercial actors on health policy, which, in turn, impacts health outcomes. In other words, there has been a failure to recognise the causes of the causes. I urge the Minister of State to address the impacts of the action that big tobacco and big alcohol have taken in the past. We know that playbook and the Minister of State should not fall foul of these old tactics. How we deal with vapes should be led by the research and the science and not the work of public affairs teams. I wish the Minister of State well in his role.

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)
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I wish the Minister of State a good afternoon. I join others in wishing him the very best in his role. It is appropriate the Minister of State with responsibility for public health is in the Chamber this afternoon because that is precisely what we are talking about. I welcome the opportunity to make some brief comments on behalf of the Regional Group on this historic occasion. I remember the day the smoking ban came in and I cannot believe that 20 years have already passed. It is important we reflect on our successes. If you are climbing a mountain, they say it is important to look around every so often and see how far you have come because it motivates you to keep moving forward. It was a defining moment and, as Deputy Shortall said, it was a momentous moment that has made an enormous difference. It was a moment of epiphany in public health in the country, especially from a workplace point of view, but also from a societal point of view, from the point of view of an active smoker and that of a passive smoker.

The population is much healthier now than 20 years ago. Many people's lives have been saved. There has been a massive reduction in mortality and morbidity rates.

One thing that is rarely mentioned is that it has taken a lot of pressure off our health service. There are fewer admissions now as a result of smoking. There are fewer strokes and there is less coronary heart disease, vascular disease, COPD and respiratory illness. It is having a massive effect from the point of view of the health service, and taking a lot of pressure off. There is much less air pollution, and to be fair, I think there is more money in people's pockets as a result. A lot of people have been using those savings for far more productive things in the meantime.

Another thing is that Ireland led the world for once. Over the last 20 years, a lot of countries have looked to Ireland as a model. If it has worked in Ireland, it can work elsewhere. They came to Dublin, they got their briefs and they brought them back to their home countries. I am not sure how many countries have introduced similar smoking bans but it is considerable, and I believe the approximate number is dozens at least.

That said, we cannot just sit on our laurels. There is still lots of work to do. It is very important that we capitalise on the successes that have already occurred. As the Tánaiste was saying earlier, 20 years ago - I am conscious of the teenagers in the Public Gallery - 19% of children were smoking, and now it is down to 5%. While we should acknowledge that progress, 5% is 5% too much. I would say 1% is 1% too much. We still have a lot of work to do from that point of view. I agree absolutely with previous speakers about the ban on vaping. The same nefarious tactics are being used by the same types of companies to make our children and teenagers addicted to this new type of nicotine transfer, and we need to work on that.

Finally, I want to mention that we spoke about the sticks. The sticks are important but we also need to work on the carrot. There are a lot of opportunities out there to assist people with smoking cessation. It is a hard thing to do. Again, that is the whole idea. It is hard to quit smoking, and people need some supports. We need more resources with regard to smoking cessation services, and in particular GPs. Our GP network is so overworked at the moment that you lose the opportunity to have those little opportunistic conversations as a GP to say: "Have you considered smoking cessation, and have you considered alternatives?". It is really important that we resource from that point of view.

In summary, there are three big takeaways for me with regard to the smoking ban. First, good public policy works and people will buy into it if it is evidenced-based, well communicated and for the greater good. That is a big takeaway for me. Second is that prevention is definitely better than cure, and there is a good reason for that. Third, improving things in the country does not always require additional resources. It generally does but it does not always require it. It is not all about spending more money; it is about focusing and spending better, rather than spending more. That is all I have, and I wish the Minister of State the very best of luck in his new role.

2:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy Berry. I understand the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, is sharing time with the Minister of State.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle and the Members here today for their kind comments regarding my new role as Minister of State. I look forward to working with all Deputies. As Deputy Shortall knows, I have served a long apprenticeship in the health committee. I think I am one month short of 13 years on the health committee, so I have served a long apprenticeship. I hope it can be of benefit to me in my new role.

It is important that all of the contributions here were extremely constructive. There are a number of messages that were clearly set out for me today. It is certainly something I will give serious consideration to. It is also important to acknowledge the work of the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin. It was not easy 20 years ago to introduce the changes that were made. It really was a fundamental change in policy. The benefits of the ban, to which he made a huge contribution, helped people to live better lives and led to a reduction in the number of people who have died as a result of lung cancer and other smoking-associated diseases. It is really sad to think that the chief medical officer in the US identified in the early 1960s that smoking was a danger to people's health, and yet it took us another three or four decades before there was fundamental change in this area across the entire world.

It is important now that we move on a step. We have reduced the level of smoking. It is, on average, around 18%. We need to get it down further. I know that the current Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has some plans in this area. I look forward to working with him. I thank him for the work he has done in various areas of health policy over recent years. I look forward to working with the Ceann Comhairle and all Members on the issues we need to get change on. As I said, I have had a long apprenticeship, and I hope I have learned from it.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I want to take the opportunity to warmly welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Colm Burke, to the Department. I am delighted for two reasons. First, he is going to bring huge energy, knowledge and passion about healthcare to the role. Second, he asked some of the most difficult questions at the health committee, and now he will have to answer those questions rather than asking them. I think that is definitely a plus. On a serious note, I am really delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is going to be joining the team in healthcare. He is going to bring a huge amount to it.

I apologise to colleagues for not being here for more of the debate. I have just come from the new build that, along with the Ronald McDonald House charity, we are putting in place at the children's hospital. We are going from 20 family rooms to 52. It is an investment of nearly €30 million, and the State is putting in two thirds of the money. I want to take the opportunity in the Dáil to acknowledge the extraordinary work of all the staff in the current Ronald McDonald House in Crumlin and the volunteers. I met with one of the children today, Darragh, who was in there for many months. They do incredible work. It is great to see this new facility coming out of the ground now.

Of course, we are here today to talk about the 20th anniversary of the workplace smoking ban, and what more we need to do into the future. I think we are all proud of it. It is seen as one of the most progressive and impactful public health measures that has been taken in Ireland and around the world. Ireland not only brought it in - the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, obviously brought it in when he was health Minister - but it gave Ireland a great reputation in public health, and great confidence that we can lead the world in these areas. There are good things that have happened. There is more that needs to be done as well with regard to controls on smoking and reducing the number of people who are smoking, particularly younger people, and then on vaping as well. I want to talk briefly to that.

On the policies we have, as Deputy Berry said, there is push and pull. A lot of what we are trying to do is to support people in addiction to stop smoking. Part of that is around making certain forms of assistance affordable because they can come at a financial burden. For example, we have availed of a change in the EU VAT rules. After engagement between the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and me, VAT was reduced on all nicotine replacement therapies in the budget for last year. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, was obviously very involved as well. That is one thing that is making a difference. It is a modest change but it is an important change.

The State now funds, through the HSE, free nicotine replacement therapy through the QUIT service, and we have secured over €1 million for that this year as well. This is extra money, bringing the total funding to nearly €2 million. We have invested very significantly in the healthy communities programme, and there are "stop smoking" supports around the country as well. That is all very important. Just last year, nearly 20,000 people got involved in the "stop smoking" service run by the HSE. That is really very encouraging to see, and we have fantastic people working around the community on that.

There has been a lot of talk, quite rightly of course, about vaping. Colleagues will be aware that we brought in the Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Act 2023, or the vaping Bill as we referred to it. We enacted that in December, and there was support right across the House for this. Section 28 of the Act prohibited the sale of vaping products to children, or those under the age of 18. That came in on 22 December last, which is very important, and there are checks and enforcement going on now.

I have commenced more sections of the Act in just the past few days. A prohibition on the sale of cigarettes and vapes at events for children will be coming into place in September. There will also be a prohibition on advertising vapes on public transport and at transport stops and stations, as well as restrictions on advertising in cinemas, school grounds or within 200 m of a school. There will then be a framework for test purchases of tobacco products. In other words, the public health officer will be able to enforce the law and ensure retailers are complying with the new legislation. There are more important measures in the Act that we are looking forward to commencing in the future. These include a licensing system for the retail sale of cigarettes and vapes and a prohibition on vending machines. We will be getting rid of those as well.

More measures are coming too. We have just finished up a public consultation on the next Bill. We are looking at this carefully in respect of where I want to go with it. I think there is broad support right across the House for this endeavour. We want to bring in, or I want to bring in anyway, further controls on the advertising of vapes, as well as on the flavouring and the colouring. I believe it is a deeply cynical exercise by the tobacco industry to target children with bubble gum and blueberry flavours and so forth. The packaging is also all very bright and colourful. I think we need controls on points of sale, so that when we walk into a shop or garage we are not bombarded with all these vaping products. I think we need to go further. I also want to see a ban on disposable vapes, for health reasons and for environmental reasons as well. That is what we are doing on vapes. We have taken important action and we are going to take more important action.

I believe we must also take another very decisive step in terms of smoking, particularly targeting younger teenagers, around 15, 16 and 17 years of age in particular. I am looking to bring a memo to the Government for agreement to change the law to increase the smoking age, or the age at which cigarettes can be sold to people, from 18 up to 21. Really, this is aimed not so much at the 20-year-olds but at those aged 15, 16 and 17 because they can either pass for 18 or they have a friend who can do so. The gap to 21, though, is obviously much bigger. The very clear advice I have, and the evidence shows this, is that if we can reduce the number of young teenagers smoking at that age, we will be able to quite radically reduce smoking prevalence in the country again.

It is a big move and this is an ongoing conversation we are having across government. I think it could make a big difference. The evidence shows us very clearly that there is a higher risk of those aged 18 to 21 becoming smokers, so if we can discourage people from doing it and get them through those years, we will continue to drive down the smoking age. This is something I am very much looking forward to pursuing and something I would most certainly like to see being brought in during the lifetime of this Dáil and in this calendar year. I look forward to further fruitful discussions with colleagues on exactly this aspect. Go raibh maith agaibh.